Thursday, July 31, 2008

We Can Solve It, post two

This week I devoted an hour to help solve global warming:

1. Watched Al Gore's speech about America moving to all clean power within ten years. Time invested was about five minutes.

2. Emailed my friends to ask them to join the campaign. This move to clean energy is equivalent to Americans setting a goal to have humans on the moon within ten years. Two of my most politically active friends joined. I hope more will as we get closer to election day. Time invested was about five minutes. I think this was my most important action because it's leveraged with millions of others behind a leader, Al Gore, with a detailed vision and the credibility to make it happen. Actually, what's really exciting, is that I just noticed how new it all is and I'm in the first 1.5 million Americans to join. Nothing like being on the cutting edge of a political movement - want to join us?

3. I ran into my congressman, Congressman Don Manzullo, this week and lobbied him to move America toward clean power technology and away from dirty coal technologies. At his request, I also went to his website to see his 12-point plan for lowering gas prices. I am not as interested in lowering gas prices as I am in developing alternatives to fossil fuels, but it's only fair that if you ask to be listened to that you listen back. Time invested about thirty minutes.

4. I went to my utility's website to get the phone numbers of the executive office so I could call and advocate for clean power. While at the site, I noticed the CEO was recently president of the nuclear power trade association and gave a speech about the future of the industry. I read the speech. I will change my phone call from asking them to switch to clean technologies to asking the execs how I can help them make it happen. They seem to be all over this. Time invested was about twenty minutes.

It was interesting and fun. Click on the title to see the website.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

If you need a case of the giggles

As someone in the midst of selling my house right now, I'm cheered by this website chosen by Blogger as today's "blog of note."

It's Lovely! I'll Take It!

features a collection of poorly chosen photos from real estate listings. With love.

I'm still giggling. Click on the title to see it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My first Czech word

Over the last couple days, I've been perusing The Essentials of Czech Grammer by James Naughton. I went straight to Chapter 3 on Nouns because everyone expresses intimidation for the various cases, genders, and pluralities of Czech nouns.

To be intimidated, I have to know what a case is. And what declension is. I know neither! But as I started to read, I did see one Czech word I knew: hrad.

In English, I probably have occasion to utter the word castle once every five years. It just doesn't come up in daily life. I find it fascinating that of all the words that could be my first word in Czech - 'castle' is it. In this instance, C.R. lives up to it's highbrow image, no?

Non-native English speakers, what was your first English word you recognized? I'm curious to see what my culture is projecting. Or what other cultures are projecting since the same question can be as interesting no matter what second or third language it is that you learned.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'm a real blogger now

I'm a real blogger now. I'm taking pictures of my food.

Homegrown mulberries

Daughter #1 did her first-ever canning. This is the before picture of fruit from our tree.

Homemade hot biscuits and jam

This is the after picture of the hot biscuits and two homemade jams we had for breakfast yesterday. She made mulberry jam and kiwi daiquiri jam. And yes, the second jam had rum in it. It was all fabulous.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Saturday Profile: Vaclav Havel

The New York Times featured Vaclav Havel today as their Saturday profile. He has a new play debuting called "Leaving." It sounds like an interesting articulation of the unintended consequences of power.

Vaclav Havel makes me appreciative of Czechs and Czech culture because his actions are incredibly admirable and brave. He modestly poo-poos this sort of admiration saying "oh people looking from afar may see a fairy-tale hero."

I disagree. My admiration encompasses the entire country and it's culture because the Velvet Revolution was not the actions of just the one man leading it. It's the entire country that fired the piercing bullet of moral authority, not gunpowder, when the Revolution happened. If that is not the best of humanity, well, I don't know what is.

Link to the title for the full article.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nothing Runs Like a Deere

The two-cylinder tractor that can cause
a Midwestern man to sigh with love
Years ago at my local Rotary club, an area doctor got up to give a speech not on his specialty, but his collection of vintage John Deere tractors. As soon as this was announced, you could practically feel the room vibrate and buzz, such was the enthusiasm of the men in my club for this subject. You would have thought the Ferrari dealer had shown up!

John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois

So it didn't surprise me to learn that the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois is the fifth most visited building in Illinois, hosting visitors from all over the world. John Deere has been rated one of the 100 most reputable and trusted brands in the world so this buzz must happen everywhere.

The famous leaping deer and an awesome dump truck

It was hard to find the Pavilion.  I only knew about it through word-of-mouth (obviously they are advertising somewhere) and there was no signage on Highway 88 telling me about it or where I should turn to get to downtown Moline to see it. I accidentally ended up at the John Deere World Headquarters because I missed my turn.

I would have deere-ly (yuk, yuk) loved to have seen the inside of that building because it was designed by world-class Finnish architect Eero Saarinen in the 1960s. It is supposed to have amazing art and murals inside and this giant wall of farm memorabilia from all over the world. The building is on the list of 150 most architecturally significant buildings in Illinois. Today though, we came to see tractors!

Daughter #1 admires a John Deere combine and attachment

Even at 5'10" there was still head room left in the combine tire

We got back on the highway and made our way to downtown Moline. Our first stop was the John Deere pavilion itself which has enough gigantic machinery out front to excite anyone's inner eight-year-old. My favorite was the dump truck. But there was also a giant combine (I think that's what it's called) with a retail value of $312,000. outfitted with a $37,000 attachment on the front. How farmers afford this, I don't know! Wouldn't it take a farm the size of a Soviet collective?

Insert the 'Green Acres' theme song here

Inside was a display on the future of agriculture focused on four different areas: population growth, sustainability, precision farming, and biotechnology (that last subject is probably for you Europeans - we know how it makes you go just a little bit over the edge, right?).

One kiosk showed the population growth rates for various areas of the world and the estimated amount of each type of food it will take to feed everyone. Three new mouths to feed are born every second. Here's the annual population growth rates for various locations:

The world +1.3 %
Italy -0.08
U.S. + 0.87
Brazil +1.24
Mexico +1.77
Iraq +3.20
Gaza +6.40

I also was able to compare my intake of each sort of food with U.S. averages.

Average annual amount of various foods eaten by U.S. Citizens individually:

Vegetables 173.5 lbs.
Fruit 126.0 lbs.
Coffee 6.1 lbs. (I am w-a-y over on this one)
Eggs 20.0 dozen per year
Sweeteners 150.0 lbs.
Red Meat 114.7 lbs.
Fish 14.9 lbs.
Flour 180.0 lbs.

I probably eat much less red meat and flour than the average, and hopefully less sweeteners; but who can tell with processed foods? The sweeteners are unexpected and hidden.

Learning that Americans usually eat only 14 pounds of fish a year seemed like such a market opportunity. I would eat LOTS more fish if I knew what had mercury and what didn't. I believe there are millions of dollars waiting to be made there.

The most fun part of the exhibit besides playing on the big machinery was trying out the planting simulator. Oh, did my lack of video game experience show. Every farm kid can now justify too many hours on the gaming console by yelling, "Mom, I'm learning how to plant!"

It's harder to drive those big rigs than it looks. On my first simulated planting I drove the machine into my neighbor's field. At harvest time, I drove it into the ditch! Luckily, John Deere equipment is outfitted with GPS systems that help farmers manage every inch of their field with auto-pilot. Every inch of the field is also coordinated with a satellite feed that creates yield management for each area. Only some corners of an acre get fertilizer and some herbicide. It's very cool and very high-tech. The simulator does not yet calculate who has the highest score or yield per acre. How could an important feature like that escape the male minds at John Deere?

The John Deere Collector's Center

Yes, you can get that old John Deere tractor rusting in the farm orchard restored in the paint and service department.
Then you can sell it on Ebay.

We then moseyed over to the John Deere Collector's Center, which is where collectors come to have their machinery lovingly restored. The two-cylinder engine is the one that creates all of the excitement. It has a sound that is very unique and beloved, just like a Harley. The day after we visited, John Deere announced they would close the Collector's Center and concentrate all of their tourism activities in the Pavilion. Gee, I hope it isn't because Americans aren't willing to walk the one block between buildings. The company is going to move the antiques to the Pavilion and show off more aspects of their business.

Waterloo Boy is an Iowa tractor company John Deere purchased

John Deere has used that leaping deer in it's logo since 1876. It's been a remarkably well-run company since it's inception, diversifying into tractors and then lawn equipment. It is now the largest agricultural machinery manufacturer in the world. Two of the most moving pictures in the Pavilion: a turn-of-the-century factory floor photo of the European immigrants who worked there, and then a present day team of Americans who had built the latest machine. If John Deere can keep all of this manufacturing in America, the Pavilion should teach how to do that too because they sure know something everyone in this country could learn from.

The product pride that the Pavilion celebrates made me tear up, and I'm not even a farmer! Daughter #1 visited the John Deere combine factory down the block from the Pavilion last Spring. She also was not raised on a farm, has no intention of living on a farm, but by the end of her combine factory tour she wanted to own one of the machines. Big colorful machinery is hard to resist, even for the ladies.

I can imagine the joy a farm wife gets from taking her
John Deere heritage picnic basket
out to the fields or to her church potluck.

A farm child's first John Deere

The gift shop was of course, an homage to all things Deere, with it's trademark green and yellow colors duplicated everywhere. I could see why John Deere souvenirs are all so popular. The brand and mood of the memorabilia is a celebration of rural happiness garnered from living a farming life with none of the feel of the farming's downsides. Having grown up in Iowa, I'm very familiar with the downsides. Those non-profitable days may be over due to high commodity prices.

Another expertise John Deere could share is it's branding expertise with the locals. What do you think of when you think of Moline, Illinois...? ____________________See? They need help.

You might also enjoy this other John Deere post: Nothing Plows Like a Deere

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nothing Plows Like a Deere

Okay, so I'm not yet in the Czech Republic. I might as well play tourist a bit more in Illinois before I leave. Besides, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that daughter #1 was home and would appreciate this -- she's an agricultural economics major.

Thirty miles from my home, on one of the most beautiful highways in Illinois, Highway 2, which lovingly follows the bends and curves of the Rock River, is the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Illinois. It's a spot so pretty that the Indians who lived nearby said the river bent here so it could look back on itself in admiration.

This is the spot where a young John Deere invented his famous plow which enabled pioneer farmers to farm the rich, black dirt of the Midwest.

As one of a widowed seamstress's five children in Vermont, John Deere used to help his mom as a child by polishing her needles so they could easily and quickly go through cloth. He came here to Illinois after receiving a first-rate blacksmith apprenticeship as a young man.

How poor was John Deere when he arrived in 1836? So poor that he didn't even have his own horse. He had to borrow the neighbor's horse to power the cogs in his new blacksmith shop.

What he found though was tons of opportunity. Not only did the locals need a blacksmith, but they had a central problem that discouraged their farming. They couldn't plow easily because the soil kept sticking to the cast iron blades they were using and the iron blades were so soft they often nicked and broke from field debris.

John Deere used a broken steel saw mill blade given to him by the local saw mill owner to create a new plow polished to a high sheen (just like his mother's sewing needles) that easily cut through the 'gumbo' soil without sticking. He only made one plow the first year, two the second, but demand kept growing and a new industry was born. His third plow now sits in the Smithsonian Museum.

John Deere moved his business to Moline, Illinois so he could be closer to the Mississippi which was used to transport the fine steel made in Sheffield, England for his plows.

His original one-room house he built himself that housed his wife and five kids plus a live-in apprentice upstairs (more rooms were added as the other four children came along), the archaeological dig showing the site of his original blacksmith shop, a new blacksmith shop with working demonstrations (here's the blacksmith waiting for us to enter so he could make us grateful we were born in the modern age), and a gift shop are all on the site. The staff recommend an hour-and-a-half to see the site completely.

We marveled at the manual labor pioneers like John Deere did. No wonder they were never overweight! Next to his house is the 35-foot well he dug for his family and encased in limestone rock. You could see how rigid gender division of labor made a lot of sense back then. There was just so much physical work for both of them to do.

Afterwards we had a pretty picnic along the river at the picnic area immediately opposite the site before proceeding to Moline, Illinois to see the John Deere Pavilion. Visiting the John Deere Historic Site could easily be combined with seeing the Ronald Reagan boyhood home in Dixon, Illinois five miles away.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Politics That I Understand For the First Time

I work with a very witty Brit who is a master of lampooning all things American. That's alright -- we give it right back to him. As often happens though, in his jokes I learn something.

Question Time in Parliament

I've always viewed the parliamentary system in Britain as entertaining (question time, for example), but likely to create situations where the whole country gets beholden to some extreme party that won a tiny percentage of the vote, yet gets to play kingmaker in cabinet creation because their tiny numbers create a governing majority. Israeli's Knesset comes to mind too.

America's present system, with just two parties, creates an overall moderation that is considered by most to be stabilizing (it also makes America slow to change which makes a lot of us impatient too).

Third parties often spring up. But having voted for alternate candidates once as my first choice, I realized I'm just enabling my third choice to get elected. I think many other Americans realize this too because the third party candidate never surpasses 10% of the vote.

My British friend said, "In my country, we don't have this phenomenon of everyone waiting around for the president to leave. When a prime minister gets THAT unpopular, his own party asks him to step down and they put up somebody new. That way the party doesn't get voted out, just the guy at the top."

Imagine how hard it would be to "cowboy up" and invade another country if you knew at anytime your party could yank you off your post. I think you would have to reach a consensus of more than five guys at the top before invading another country and starting a war, no?

It would force you to move as a swarm. If you don't feel accountable to public opinion, necessarily, you would at least be forced to sell your party on your actions.

I was explaining that I finally understood this to another Brit, and he said, "well it's not just George Bush and his unpopularity where that would have been useful. Think about Bill Clinton when he got into his troubles. Al Gore could have taken over and the Democrats would probably still be in charge. America might not have felt a wholesale 'need' to change the whole party in charge. The guy at the top isn't as important as which party. John Major, for example, was the third choice of his party when they put him up."

Aaaahh, I get it now. That is useful.

Monday, July 21, 2008

We Can Solve It

Hey, we can do this.

Al Gore is asking every American who cares about global warming to join together in a group called so that by the time a new president is elected in the fall of 2008 there are several million Americans assembled who can pressure our government for immediate action on this issue.

I can do that. Join a group with my countrymen to actively pursue policies that keep our planet healthy. There's no cost. I just receive their email mailings. Will you join us? It'd be a lot easier than trying to do this on our own.

The issue of climate change has been very confusing in America because there has been no federal governmental leadership. I actually know more about what energy policy oilman T. Boone Pickens wants us to pursue because he tells me several times a day in commercials that we are engaged in the largest transfer of wealth from one country to another with our addiction to foreign oil (four times the annual cost of the Iraq war).

Even Exxon is busy telling me what needs to be done and they constantly extol their new technologically-advanced battery in the works.

NBC had an entire week where every single show on the network discussed green living and they sent their Today show crew to the four corners of the earth to show what global warming is doing to the environment. But on this subject of climate change my president has been pretty silent.

Two things I do know about my administration's view:

1) It has finally gone from denying global warming to admitting it exists.

2) The president wants to open drilling in the Artic Wildlife Refuge and off the coast of California to "reverse the psychology" of the markets so gas prices go down. That's it. That's his whole energy policy, I think.

3) Oh yes, I forgot, the occupation of Iraq to set up no-bid contracts for global oil companies. How could I forget that?

I've never seen an international issue that business leads on rather than the government. I honestly can't think of another one that's happened in my lifetime. Frankly, it's confusing and more than a little, ahem, whussy/alarming/depressing to see my government standing around rubbernecking on this. America is supposed to be the knight on the white horse leading the charge.

The first action that Al Gore has asked from us individually is to know what sort of power we consume. My utility company actually gets more power from nuclear power than most American towns: 47%. It buys 42% of it's energy from other companies that use coal.

I like that they don't own the coal-fire plants so that when I and others ask them to switch to another source, they can! That's Al Gore's second request. Call your utility company and demand clean technologies for your power. I can do that. Can you?

Third is to contact every single one of our elected representatives and demand clean power. I can do that. Actually I love doing that. It's shocking what you learn when you call and write your reps. They often tell you stuff that doesn't hit the mainstream media.

Both of my parents were elected representatives. They used the rule of thumb that if one person contacts the office concerning a particular issue, 100 other people are thinking that way.

Al Gore's fourth request is to recruit 25 people to join the cause. Link on my title to reach the website put together to organize all of us to demand action from our government. Let me know if you sign up. I'll count you as one of my 25!

Let's saddle up that white horse!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Revising my Goal

I need to revise my arrival date for Prague. I had originally planned to leave seven days from today and that is not going to happen because my house hasn't sold yet. It will though. I have faith.

The good side of that is that I will get to spend time with my children one last time before they go back to college. They arrive Friday.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Do you think it's time to add world geography to the American curriculum?

Quick, somebody ask John McCain what's the name of the country that used to be called Burma. See if he gets it right. Here is a highly entertaining story in the Huffington Post about McCain getting razzed by NONE OTHER than George Bush for his ignorance in continuing to call the Czech Republic Czechoslovakia. Even George knew that Czecho was no more.

The other item in the campaign today that is ALL the talk is the satirical cover of the New Yorker magazine portraying the Obamas as Osama acolytes. The New Yorker says it's satire of right-wing fearmongering, the Obamas say it's tasteless. Gee, they're both right. Ain't freedom grand?

On a non-satirical note, the good people of Denver are really, really excited preparing for Obama's acceptance speech which will take place in late August at Democratic convention in Denver. The convention is being held at the Pepsico Center, a basketball venue. It holds 20,000+ people. The Democratic National Committee is moving the speech to Invesco Field (lovingly known by locals as Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos football team).

Invesco Field holds 77,000+ people, plus they'll be able to put more seats on the actual field so as many people as possible will be able to witness this historic moment.

The part that truly makes me pause, pause with both reverence and appreciation for the flexibility of our democracy, is Senator Obama's acceptance speech will take place 45 years to the day that Martin Luther King uttered "I Have a Dream Today" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The wonderful world of Miroslav Sasek

Yesterday I came across a delightful set of children's books created in the late 1950s/early 1960s that could awaken wonder and resolve in any child to see the world. They were done by a Czech illustrator, a native of Prague, named Miroslav Sasek. The books are being reissued.

Besides the whimsical illustrations, the text introduces children to great figures from history such as Christopher Wren or Napoleon. The books celebrates people, architecture, and things as everyday as lamp posts or transport tickets. I appreciated how he communicated through his text that a child would want to know who all these people were and also, would want to observe and celebrate differences in cultures. These books talk "up" intellectually to a child in a way I'm not sure today's books always do.

I could not find a "This is Prague." Does anyone know if one exists?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What's the missile treaty fallout?

Two Czech stories in two days in the New York Times: the paper reports that the Czechs suspect the Russian oil valve has been shut off in retaliation since the missile treaty was signed. Link to the article via the title.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Czech Rock Jumping

In today's New York Times is an article that begs for a soundtrack such as Tarzan-like yodeling or "Wipeout." It's about the nascent extreme sport of rock jumping in Adrspach, Czech Republic. Click on the title to read the whole story and access the video. Is there fun and crazy Czech music that would be perfect for this?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Airplane Admiration

Last night I saw this glorious DC-3 parked out at the airport. It flies out of Alaska. I have always had a thing for DC-3s, because these planes represent all of the romance and emotion of early aviation. The sound of those engines!

I know I am not alone in loving these things. Barnes&Noble has a whole bunch of retro Pan Am paraphernalia for sale. There must be a lot of people who would love taking the Pan Am Clipper to Cathay.

There are some way cool DC-3 tourist rides offered around the globe. One web site advertised DC-3 African safaris. Now if that doesn't get a daydream started, I don't know what does.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Are Czech women some of the least-stressed in the world?

A write-up of the Global Women's Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam in this month's Expat Women's Newsletter shares research presented by Xiaoyan Zhao, Senior Vice President & Director, Global Research & Consulting, Gfk Roper (USA).

According to Expat Women, Gfk Roper conducts annual studies throughout the world, with 30,000 respondents per wave. A PDF file of the entire presentation is at the Expat Women website.
  • Eastern European women score the highest, in terms of the percentage wanting more money, versus more time.
  • The percentage of women reporting the highest frequency of stress are in: 1. Australia; 2. Poland; 3. Japan; 4. Egypt; and 5. United Kingdom
  • The least stressed women (self-identified) are in: 1. Indonesia; 2. China; 3. Czech Republic; 4. India; and 5. Taiwan.
  • Television is the medium preferred most in Thailand. People in India read the most. Those in Argentina listen to radio the most. And people in Taiwan spend the most time on computers.
  • Bargain hunting is greatest among Brazilians, Americans and South Africans. While Russian, Japanese and Polish consumers are least likely to look for or be satisfied by deals.
So, Czech ladies, are you surprised by this or did you know it all along? What contributes to making your life so stress-free?

I'm surprised ladies in Oz identify themselves as the most stressed. Heck, there's only 20 million people on that great big piece of land. What is stressing Aussies out?

Expat Women is a wonderful resource, by the way. I get the newsletter mailed to me every month. My favorite part of the site is the blog directory of expat female blogs around the globe. It's how I discovered Czech off the Beaten Path and Adventures in the Czech Republic.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

My favorite freedom

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Still in a mood to celebrate July 4th, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate my favorite freedom guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States. The Bill of Rights is a list of 10 amendments to the constitution that specifically list rights that Americans citizens are guaranteed.

I have a friend who's Austrian who told me that every single Austrian paycheck has a deduction for the Catholic church and that citizens do not have a choice in the matter. This would be unthinkable in America. Christian culture predominates in America (not always graciously) simply because that's the majority, but I have met Agnostic, Atheist, Bahai, Buddhists, Confucian, Hindi, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, and Wiccan people about town. I don't know any Janists or Zoroastrians but, who knows, my circle of friends may be too narrow.

A fun way I experience other cultures is to visit and worship in other people's churches. My very favorite places to go are African-American churches because the music and the clothes and the joy are fantastic. Next would be Catholic Churches that are drop-dead gorgeous where passionate believers are engaging in all of their favorite rituals.

My own church is Congregationalist, which is very, very American, because it is governed from the bottom up. Barack Obama, until he parted ways with his minister, was a Congregationalist. Besides that grass-roots lack of hierarchy, what I fell in love with was the music (gorgeous, traditional hymns) and the strong sense of progressive social justice that runs throughout the history of my denomination.

But anyway, freedom from state religion is not my favorite American freedom. I got sidetracked. My favorite freedom is the freedom of speech and press. I think the healthiest measure of a democracy is the ability to say "the emperor has no clothes."

When bad ideas are allowed to hit the air, they can be quickly rejected. I was reading a book the other day about a culture that is known for people saying one thing and doing another. Why won't they say what they actually believe? Because political correctness is so powerful, that to say out loud what you actually believe, is unacceptable. There must be no correlation between speech and actions. Talk about a way for kids to become confused and believe lies. How does a culture move forward, grow, and be flexible if ideas can't be talked about?

A big part of free speech that is hard to live with is speech that is tasteless, irresponsible, and/or hateful. But hateful speech spoken out loud, in freedom, can be countered. Hateful speech, whispered, can not.

I've had a couple instances in my life where I had the opportunity to stand up and defend free speech. One time, when I was serving on my local library board, Madonna published her book "Sex." Fundamentalist Christians showed up at our board meeting demanding we remove the book from the public library. If we caved into their very emotional and vocal demands we would have been violating our own standards of selection. Our originally adopted selection policy required purchasing every single title that was on the New York Times bestsellers list. Madonna was #1 on that list. I made the motion to stick by our policy. I believe it passed unanimously.

Most of the time, I feel lonely in my appreciation of this freedom. Not very many Americans seem rabidly passionate about it. The erosion of civil liberties that is taking place in my country does seem, frankly, un-American.

For example, reading that our Guantanamo interrogation techniques had been borrowed from Chinese communist torture techniques seemed 100% plausible because it's so alien to our values. It all seems so insane. This isn't the way Americans do things! Which brings us back to the question: why then, ARE WE DOING IT? And I ask that with the greatest respect and appreciation for the mission of the people who keep us safe.

Until the present administration came into power, I never once thought about "does the Constitution apply to everyone who is physically present in the geographical boundaries of America or just the citizens? Does it still apply to American citizens when they go overseas? Does it apply to the way we expect our government to behave outside of our geographical boundaries to non-citizens?

Friday, July 4, 2008

My wish for you: Freedom

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Hello World! Hello Czech friends!

Today is the 4th of July, the day Americans celebrate our declaration of independence. It is impossible for me to read these words without awe - they move me that much. Thomas Jefferson wrote those words in his Declaration of Independence and they were unanimously adopted by men who were willing to risk their lives and property by signing it.

I remember when my Czech friend Kate said that Americans take seriously things the rest of the world has developed complete cynicism over - things like government of the people, by the people and for the people. It's true. When it comes to the ideas around the "idea" of America, I have the faith and belief of a child. I don't believe Czechs are any different about their belief actually - witness the Prague Spring, the Velvet Revolution, and the Velvet Divorce. Czechs are no less outraged than we are when the ideal is not realized.

Here is how I will celebrate my country's holiday in Illinois.
I think it is very typical:

Yesterday I went to a symphonic concert of patriotic music that started with everyone singing the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem. The concert was held under the stars in a spectacular, recently-built outdoor amphitheater.

At Independence Day concerts, it is traditional to play the anthems of all the military services and for the veterans of each service to stand during their military branch's anthem. When these 60-80-year-old gentlemen stand, it humbles me and makes me grateful. You can literally feel the passion behind that phrase "the last full measure of their devotion" immortalized by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address.

There must always be at least one piece by John Williams, a composer who is a national treasure (non-Americans may be most familiar with the movie music he wrote to accompany Jaws and Star Wars). This year the maestro chose the theme to Indiana Jones movies.

This year a new talent's work was featured called "Reflections on Rushmore." Written by a young Iowan named Michael Gilbertson when he was eighteen years old (two years later he is now studying composition at Julliard), the piece was an homage to the four Presidents featured on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. Originally commissioned by the Houston Symphony Orchestra, this was only the second time "Reflections on Rushmore" had been performed. My local symphony is going to play the world premiere of his next work. Ironically, when looking for an image of young Michael Gilbertson, I found this wonderful Czech music project he was involved in - click here.

While I adore patriotic music, my favorite part of the concert was featured medleys of Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck. My least favorite was a medley of Beach Boys tunes. The Beach Boys were not meant for symphonic arrangement!

All 4th of July concerts I have ever seen always end the same way with the "Stars and Stripes Forever" featuring marvelous piccolo solos, enthusiastic hand clapping, and fireworks. Watching the fireworks from under the open roof made the booms just that much more powerful and fun.

Tonight I will make a very simple 4th of July dinner of brats cooked on the grill, corn on the cob and fresh green beans. Then I will join thousands of other people down at the Rock River for a truly AWESOME fireworks display. It is even more magnificent than Chicago's because the space it is delivered in is much smaller so the fireworks appear much, much bigger.

I wish anyone reading this: freedom.
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